Malvina’s Grave and Ossian’s Arran – part two

In last month’s Voice for Arran we published the first part of a talk by Charles Currie that he gave at the Arran Saltire Society’s meeting on 23rd February 2022. Over the years as a young boy going on holiday to Drumadoon farm, Charles remembers the family calling the group of stones at the foot of the front field as Malvina’s Grave. In the second part of the talk, he asks – who was Malvina and how did she become involved with Fingal, Ossian and his family? 

Featured image shows Malvina’s grave with Drumadoon beyond. Photo credit: Charles Currie.

Malvina was the eldest daughter of Toscar of Lutha, described in the poem as “The white armed daughter of Toscar”. She was born at Torlutha, the Doon, and loved to hunt in the forests that abounded in these days around Shiskine and Machrie. On one such hunting trip she was spotted by Oscar, Ossian’s son and their relationship flourished until they were betrothed to be married. Before that took place, Oscar had to visit Ireland to assist an ally of the Family with trouble from a rival. By some treachery Oscar was killed and Ossian sent him back to Arran on a single vessel as he had to stay and avenge his son’s death.

It is reported in a section found of a short poem by Mcpherson, who wrote in a note to Temora,
The greatest and perhaps the most interesting part of the poem is lost, he says. What remains is a soliloquy of Malvina. She, sitting alone in Tor Lutha spots at a distance the ship carrying back the body of Oscar. The exert that remains states:
Malvina is like the bow of the shower in the secret valley of streams; it is bright, but the drops of heaven are rolling in its blended light.”

She says in her soliloquy, “They say that I am fair within my locks, but on my brightness is the wandering of tears. Darkness flies over my soul, as the dusky wave of the breeze along the grass of Lutha. Yet have not the roes failed me, when I moved between the hills. Pleasant beneath my white hand arose the sound of harps. What then daughter of Lutha, travels over thy souls, like the dreary path of a ghost along the nightly beam? Should the young warrior fall in the roar of his troubled fields. Young virgins of Lutha, arise, call back the wandering thoughts of Malvina. Dweller of my thoughts by night, whose form ascends in troubled fields, why dost thou stir up my soul, thou far distant son of a king. Is that the ship of my love, its dark course thro the ridges of ocean? How art thou so sudden, Oscar, from the heath of shields?”

Malvina rushes through the hills down to the mouth of the Sliddery where Oscar’s body is brought a shore and buried at the spot which is still to this day described as Oscar’s grave.

Oscar’s Grave, Glenree. Photo credit: Charles Currie

When Ossian returned from Ireland, having avenged Oscar’s death, Malvina went with him to Morvern and acted as his daughter and aid for a long period.

Many years on, Ossian, by then almost blind set out to return to Ireland for one final time and Malvina accompanied him. On reaching Arran they stayed at Torlutha and Malvina set out with her sisters to make a visit to Oscar’s tomb in Sliddery where she was set upon by some men of Corricravie, who were at feud with the friends of Fingal’s family and were actually reputed to have killed Fingal himself, for there is a grave on the Leac a Breac that is reputed to be the grave of Fingal.

Malvina, either by malice or accident was shot and killed by an arrow and returned to Torlutha where she was cremated and buried at a point halfway between the Blackwater and Torlutha, looking west to Kintyre and directly south of Morvern. The cromlech in the front field at Drumadoon exactly fits this geographic location.

With respect to the burial itself Mr Bannatyne thought that, according to tradition, it was by burning of the remains, which not only corresponds with the discovery of the urn in the tomb, but seems to suggest an entirely new reading of a great part of the poem.
In the light of this simple fact, it is easy to see that the poem itself, in its introduction, describes the very process of burning, and the rise of Malvina’s soul in gentle flame to its airy dwelling in the clouds:

“Thou hast left us in darkness, first of maids of Lutha. We sit at the rock and there is no voice, no light but the meteor of fire. Soon has thou set, Malvina, daughter of generous Toscar. But thou risest like a beam of the east, among the spirits of thy friends, where they sit in their halls, the chambers of thunder. The lesser heroes, with a thousand meteors, light and airy hall Malvina rises in the midst, a blush on her cheek, she beholds the unknown faces of her fathers and turns aside her humid eyes.”

“Why shinest thou so soon on our clouds?” says her father immediately afterwards bending from his cloud as it drifts from the dusky west and catches illumination from her blazing tomb, “O lovely light of Lutha.”

Ossian and his party continued their journey south after attending to Malvina’s funeral, but his heart was not up to the journey to Ireland and he stopped and died at Clachaig near Kilmory, where he too was interred in what is still called Ossian’s mound. (The site of the new distillery.)


Location of Ossian’s Mound, at Lagg

But what of the myth that Fingal, Ossian and their family were giants? Through constant exaggeration over the verbal telling it would be easy for small differences to become great chasms. Ossian claimed to be the last of his race. Could he have meant that through interbreeding with other races within the west coast of Scotland that they were now one race?

In the Cairns of Arran it is claimed that the local conditions on Arran were the conditions prevailing within Scotland as a whole at the time. Two races of different physical type, practicing different burial customs and manifesting different qualities of culture, met in the transitional stage between the age of Stone and the age of Bronze.

The average height of those interred in most of the cists excavated on Arran was 5ft 5 inches for men and 5 foot for women. Skull A in Ossian’s Mound at Clachaig is of a larger man, probably nearer 6 foot. Could he have been considered a giant at that time. There are also two different skull shapes found, Dolichocephalic and Brachycephalic suggesting that two races came to this point from different areas.

It has long been thought that the people of Britain came across the land bridge from Europe after the end of the last ice age but Bryan Sykes in Blood of the Isles suggests that DNA shows that those called the Celtic races came from Iberia by boat, either earlier or at the same time.

Was there a bard called Ossian who wrote these tales of daring or were there many bards who perpetuated the tales locally and passed the stories down from generation to generation? And could someone at a later date travelling through the area, gather these tales and localities and combine them into the great gaelic poems that are available today?

Either way, the Ossianic myths have prevailed on the island of Arran for nearly 2000 years and, even if everything that I have related to you today is nothing but a fairy story, I would still contend that the Cromlech at the bottom of the front field at Drumadoon is the grave of a very special personage, clearly erected for an individual rather than as a mass grave. You may make up your own minds as to what it is and who it was erected to commemorate but, in the absence of proof to the contrary I choose to believe that it is the grave of a Neolithic princess called Malvina.


Malvina’s Grave, looking towards Campbeltown. Photo credit: Charles Currie

With many thanks to Charles Currie for his permission to publish his talk here in the Voice, and also to Heather Gough for editing assistance!